Sacrifice Bunting, Lineup Decisions, and the “Contact Play”: What’s burning me this weekend

Today’s mission, which I have accepted, is to let you all know of what’s driving me nuts in the world of sports baseball lately. So without further ado…

Trout hit an RBI Single on Tuesday before being pinch-run for in the fifth inning. Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/AP

Trout hit an RBI Single on Tuesday before being pinch-run for in the fifth inning. Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/AP

  • On Tuesday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia put forth a starting 9 that featured Mike Trout batting second and DH-ing and Raul Ibanez batting fourth and playing Left Field. Trout has been battling “soreness” in his hamstring this week. In Tuesday’s game against Houston, Trout went 2-3 with 3 RBI before being pinch run for Grant Green. Ibanez, meanwhile, played the entire game in Left Field. My thoughts on this have changed slightly since learning Trout has been battling a sore hamstring, BUT…
      • Generally speaking, I’m opposed to giving a guy a “day off” by DH-ing him. He’s still playing baseball that day, correct? It’s not a day off. A “day off” means he doesn’t play baseball that day.
      • There should almost never be a day in which Mike Trout does not play baseball. I get the whole trying-to-save-and-protect your investment/best player thing, especially considering he’s the best baseball player in the world. But the Angels are not going to the World Series this season. Also, Mike Trout is barely 22 years old. There’s always a few players who, at the end of the season, have played in 162 baseball games that season. If Mike Trout isn’t one of those players each of the next few years, Scioscia should be axed, regardless of anything else.
      • Mike Trout should never DH. He’s one of the greatest athletes in American sports right now, and his athleticism and glove should always be in the outfield. If the Angels want to win, at least.

        From last season when Raul Ibanez played a game in left field for the Mariners. One of the reasons why he should not play defense ever again in MLB.

        From last season when Raul Ibanez played a game in left field for the Mariners. One of the reasons why he should not play defense ever again in MLB.

      • Even if you’re okay with DH-ing Mike Trout as a means of giving him a day off, this should not happen the same day Raul Ibanez is playing left field…because Raul Ibanez should not be playing left field anymore ever. I do understand the “I want to give him a day off, but I can’t leave his bat out of the line-up,” thought process, which is why the job of a manager is not easy. You must decide whether or not you will rest Trout or play him.
      • Finally, pinch-running for Mike Trout is like subbing out Ray Allen when you need free throws, bringing a reliever in for Mariano Rivera in the 9th inning or taking Wayne Gretzky off in the final two minutes of a tie game. What makes Trout great is his speed and athleticism. If you have reason to pinch run for Mike Trout – which you don’t – then he shouldn’t have been playing to begin with.
  • I feel like I haven’t properly shared with you all my thoughts on bunting and specifically sacrifice bunting. The object of the game of baseball is to score more runs than the other team. Each team is given a minimum of nine different turns, known as innings, to send their batters to the plate in an attempt to score runs. And each inning – don’t worry folks, I’m almost to my point – the team who is batting has as many turns at bat as they want, until the get three outs. Three outs, that’s what you have to work with. This breaking down of the game to its most simple elements has taught us something that goes against old-fashioned baseball thinking: laying down a sacrifice bunt really does not make that much sense. You are giving up an out. You only have three to work with, why give one up so easily? Let’s take the runners on 1st and 2nd with either zero or one out example. The argument is that with a sacrifice bunt, you put both runners in scoring position. Here are my problems with this:
    Andy Dirks of the 2013 Detroit Tigers with one of the many things that can go wrong when you attempt to lay down a bunt. Courtesy of Fangraphs.

    Andy Dirks of the 2013 Detroit Tigers with one of the many things that can go wrong when you attempt to lay down a bunt. Courtesy of Fangraphs.

      • You have no guarantee that the bunt will be successful, which means you’re taking a risk. If unsuccessful – the ball is popped in the air and caught, the bunts go foul and you’re down 0-2, or the bunt isn’t laid down well enough and the defense can get the lead runner – you’ve given away an out and received nothing in return. You don’t need a sabermetrician to tell you that’s a bad deal.
      • Let’s say the bunt is successful. In fact, let’s go with the one out scenario. You know have runners at 2nd and 3rd and one out. All of this depends on your lineup, but you’ve now opened up first base. The team on defense has plenty of reason to intentionally walk your next hitter and set up the force play/double play. So, when considering laying down the sacrifice bunt, you must consider the offensive ability not only of your next hitter in the lineup, but of your hitter who is in the hole/two hitters down the line.
      • One more point to make specifically on sacrifice bunting. When you swing the bat, there are any number of potential outcomes. A wide variety of different out types could occur, as well as a single, and error, or a whole host of different extra base hits including a homerun. When you choose to lay down a sacrifice bunt, the potential outcomes are extremely limited — a popout, a double play, a fielders choice, a sacrifice, and an infield single are pretty much your only results. I’d rather have a chance at an extra base hit than be likely to get an out, even if it means moving the runners up. You’re still depending on future events occurring in your favor.
      • When considering sacrifice bunting, a manager should also consider the speed/athleticism of the men he already has on base. If your lead runner has the speed to score from second on a fair number of things, then why do you need to get him to third base?
  • This brings me to my next point, because I feel like lately I’ve seen a lot of guys either stealing third base, or attempting to get to third. The point being that the difference between being on second base and being on third base is not very great. If a batter is going to hit a double, triple or home run, stealing third or advancing to third will not make a difference.
  • More on baserunning, because for what seems like the last five years, the Mariners have LOVED to execute the “contact play.” What is the contact play, you ask? The contact play occurs when there is a runner on third base and the bases are not loaded – meaning he does not need to run on contact – and yet he does just that. Why is it a problem? Because too often the runner on third base is thrown out at home and had he not been running in that situation, he would still be on third base with a chance to score during subsequent at-bats.

    Officer Nick Franklin, walking the beat in the dugout last season.

    Officer Nick Franklin, walking the beat in the dugout last season.

  • The Seattle Mariners promoted Nick Franklin on May 20th after Corey Hart went down for 4-6 weeks. Franklin had been at Tacoma since April 26 and in 19 games and 84 plate appearances, Franklin was batting .364/.488/.561 with three HR, four doubles, five steals and 17 RBI. He was hot, and he was promoted — one would assume because you wanted his bat in the lineup over Brad Miller. Franklin has played in only three games since being promoted. His first contest back saw Miller go 2-3 with an RBI and the next two were a combined 0-7 with four strikeouts. But that’s only three games. If you’ve called up Nick Franklin for his hot bat, he needs to play. Why is this an issue? Willie Bloomquist has now started two games in a row, including Saturday. Yes, Bloomquist had a great evening at the plate Friday with his first homer in three years and 3 RBI. But the age-old concept of “riding the hot bat” after one game is completely ridiculous. And if the idea is to not bat Nick Franklin against left handed pitching, you are committing to not playing Franklin all weekend, and that’s boneheaded. We’d all love a solid, rational explanation from Mr. McClendon, but I’m sure we won’t get it.
Hopefully WIllie enjoyed this one. It rarely happens for him and he frankly should not have too many more opportunities to make it happen.

Hopefully WIllie enjoyed this one. It rarely happens for him and he frankly should not have too many more opportunities to make it happen. Photo Credit: Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

That’s where my head is at here a touch after 4 PM PST on Saturday Afternoon. The Sounders game will be kicking off momentarily and there is action in both the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals tonight, but I will be at Safeco Field for the first time this season. Enjoy your Saturday, folks.

– Dylan

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About Dylan Jenkins

I'm a proud Seattlite currently living in Queens, NY. Outside of sports, I enjoy crime dramas - specifically police procedurals - as well as a wide range of music, everything from Top 40 to Iron & Wine, Bob Dylan & Rogue Wave. I am a cat person, which is to say I'm a human who enjoys felines. I have a tremendous sweet tooth that isn't very discerning, and I refuse to observe a number of unwritten social rules.
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